Volume 3 Issue 1

Shades of Blue Coming to Wheat Ridge High School: STEM Program Focused on Aviation

by Vicki Ottoson

The Wheat Ridge Community Foundation (WRCF), under the leadership of Board Member Arthur Bushell, is working with staff at Wheat Ridge High School to launch a new chapter of Shades of Blue, Inc. 

Founded in 1999 to help address growing shortages in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical (STEM) workforce, Shades of Blue is a non-profit educational organization dedicated to mentoring, tutoring, counseling, and arranging internship and employment referrals for young people who desire to pursue STEM careers. 

Through the efforts of 70+ volunteers, Shades of Blue is currently assisting over 1,250 U.S. and International students who have become interested in pursuing careers in aviation and aerospace.  The program at Wheat Ridge High School will be the first project in Jeffco. 

Shades of Blue is committed to fostering STEM careers for all interested students.

Professionals within the organization provide a support system for mentoring and job placement that will maximize the probability of success for the students who desire a career in STEM. Partnerships within STEM-oriented employers provide graduates with potential future employment and/or educational opportunities. 

Although Shades of Blue focuses primarily on aviation and aerospace, assistance with other STEM vocations is available to student members. Interested students can sign up to become members by clicking  “Student Sign Up” on the OurShadesofBlue.org home page. 

Each year Shades of Blue conducts more than 50 school visits targeting students Grade K through college, encouraging them to pursue STEM careers. Locally, Aero Clubs have been established at Metro State College of Denver and the United States Air Force Academy. 

During the summer months, Shades of Blue hosts aviation and aerospace camps focusing on STEM education for student members. In 2014, Metro State and the Denver Housing Authority hosted the first Denver Area Summer Science Camp. This past fall, Littleton Public Schools held Engineering and Aviation Enhancement Courses. Students of all ages are encouraged to attend the Shades of Blue annual “Fly Day” to experience the thrill of actual flight.  

Shades of Blue was founded by United Captain Willie Daniels. The organization’s board of directors is a mini-“Who’s Who” of aviation and aerospace science and education professionals. Over the past few years, Shades of Blue has established working relationships with leading aerospace companies and programs in the Denver Metro Area, including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Jeppesen, United Airlines, the Aviation and Aerospace Science Department at Metro State College of Denver, the United States Air Force Academy and the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. These important industry contacts keep Shades of Blue abreast of the changing employment needs and trends throughout the aviation and aerospace industries.

Distinguished individuals such as Ralph Dergance, a former Lockheed Martin executive, teach Shades of Blue classes. Ralph started his career at The Martin Company as a propulsion engineer on the venerable Titan programs, and moved through the ranks across the entire spectrum of responsibilities from launch vehicle and space programs to management. Ralph served as Director of Acquisition Management for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company at the time of his retirement 41 years later.

Other distinguished volunteers include Mr. Peter Teets, who served as Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, Under Secretary of the Air Force, and head of Lockheed Martin from 1995 to 1999.  Mr. Teets joins 25 distinguished Shades of Blue Award recipients, including Maj. James Harrison, USAF, Tuskegee Airman; Lt. Victor Glover, USAF, Test Pilot, Edwards Air Force Base; Mr. Barrington Irving, Round-the-World Soloist; and Dr. Edward Tunstel, Space Department, John Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory.

The 9-week Wheat Ridge High Ground School Class is set to launch on Saturday, February 21, and will be open to 30 students.   At the conclusion of the class, graduates will have the opportunity to experience flight firsthand in a cockpit setting. 

The program is free of charge. Students wishing to enroll should contact Wheat Ridge High School Counselor Gina Writz. Parents who have questions can call Gina at 303-982-5214. Volunteers interested in working with Shades of Blue, please contact WRCF and Shades of Blue Board Member Arthur Bushell, 303-810-3087.